After our water situation returns to normal, we’d better remember and learn from the Drought of 2016, because we can expect more of the same in future. Climate forecasts for southwestern Nova Scotia call for warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Doing our best to cut our carbon emissions is still the ethical thing to do, but we also need to start adapting to the likely future.
That translates into assuring that we have a continuously adequate supply of water of suitable quality, while we still can. This column will share some thoughts, in that regard, but a complete list of ways of adapting to climate change hasn’t been written yet.
“Waste not, want not” will always make sense. Turn off faucets when you aren’t using the water, even during tasks like brushing teeth and washing dishes. Get leaks repaired. If your toilet flush uses more water than needed, put a rock or a brick in the tank. Re-use waste water, when possible. Use automatic appliances like washing machines and dishwashers sparingly, and if you are buying such an item, let level of water consumption influence your purchase. Think about how your showering and bathing habits can use less water, and reduce your consumption accordingly. During the summer, consider swimming, instead; however, if you do use a lake or river for your bathing, go easy on the soap and shampoo, because such stuff can pollute. Limit or stop nonessential use of water, particularly when water shortages look likely.
Start saving rain water. It’s free, and can be put to many uses, other than drinking. Think ahead, and start collecting as early in the spring as is safe.
Rain barrels put under eaves are an easy way to collect water. The runoff can then be put to various good uses, rather than contributing to flooded basements and undesirable runoff.
Too many bait barrels get used once, then tossed. Some end up at the Transfer Station on Hardscratch Road, where they get turned into garbage or recycled plastic. They make excellent rain barrels, and are common near many wharves and fish plants. Just ask for permission before you remove them! Otherwise, Waste Check can sometimes advise of availability of barrels on its Facebook page.
You could go big-time and have a cistern installed. That is a more expensive proposition, and installation would need to follow local by-laws and provincial regulations. However, a well-installed cistern could look after all your water needs, aside from drinking.
One caution: the asphalt in shingles contains chemicals which are not good for the health. It is probably prudent not to water vegetable gardens with the water off a new roof with asphalt shingles.
Drilled wells tap deeper, older water sources, and are less vulnerable to short-term weather fluctuations. A couple of cautions are in order, though. As some folks have discovered, the quality of ground water is greatly affected by the rock layer in and next to which it lies. In particular in Nova Scotia, arsenic levels in some ground water is above safe drinkable levels, and less frequently, nasty stuff like lead and cadmium can make problems. So testing of water from newly-drilled wells is prudent. If unacceptable levels of such things occur, treatment is possible, but it costs.
Otherwise, the relative stability of deep ground water can mislead us into thinking that water supplies are infinite. They aren’t and if we use ground water at a rate greater than it is being recharged, we are looking at future trouble. Many studies have been done on ground water in various parts of Nova Scotia, but gaps exist, and as our climate changes, some findings from older studies may no longer apply. We in the Tri-County region are still in good shape, but we need to stay that way. We should not begrudge some of our tax dollars going to support ground water monitoring and the publication of easily-understood documents which can give us a more concrete idea of how we should be managing our ground water.
Looking after our ground water also means using our land and our resources in ways which retain water and keep it unpolluted. We need our roads, towns, farms, and industries, but they need to be managed with good water stewardship in mind. Forests and wetlands keep water supplies stable and pure. We need to reduce our addiction to clear cutting. Farms should follow voluntary relevant guidelines as well as mandatory regulations, and should be encouraged and supported to do so, as appropriate. We need to value all land and give maintaining and re-using buildings greater priority and building new ones less. Lake, stream, and river shorelines should be left as undisturbed as possible.
In light of the likely changes coming to our climate, we all need to give water management greater priority, and encourage our elected representatives to do the same.